Hebron Shelanu (Chayei Sarah)

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Hebron is home to several hundred of the most extreme Jewish settlers. They often clash with the town’s Palestinian residents, as well as with Israeli forces they see as overly sympathetic to the Palestinians – Irish Times

A small community of Israelis lives in the centre of Hebron, in defiance of international laws that forbid an occupying power to settle its own people on the territory it has captured – BBC News

So, what is it with these “extreme” settlers? Why do they insist on living in Chevron (Hebron), in “defiance of international law? Why are they clashing with local residents? Why does the Israeli army have to risk the lives of young soldiers to protect a few hundred illegals

Let us take a look at this week’s Parsha – Chayei Sarah. We read of Sarah’s passing at an advanced age and how her husband, the Patriarch Avraham needs to find a burial place for her. He meets up with Ephron the Hittite, the owner of a piece of land containing a deep, double cave and asks to purchase the plot. Due to his high standing, Avraham is offered the land free of charge, but pays the full price – four hundred silver shekels – to claim undisputed ownership.

Photo: Zalman Lent

[Parenthetically, an interesting lesson is learned here from the behaviour of Ephron. He offers the plot of land to Avraham free of charge, even when Avraham insists on paying. However the Torah notes that although he is acting generously, he is not genuine, and really does want to be paid. He makes this quite obvious by letting Avraham know the value of the land; “My lord, listen to me; a [piece of] land worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is it between me and you? Bury your dead.” – Avraham gets the message and pays in full. The message we learn from Ephron is, “Emor Me’at Ve’Aseh Harbeh– Don’t act like Ephron, do more action and less talking.”]

The tradition was that Adam and Chava (Eve) were already interred in the double cave in Chevron that Avraham purchased. Now Sarah is buried there, and in turn Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, Rivka and Leah. [Rachel is buried in Beit Lechem]

Second only to the site of the Beit Hamikdash, Chevron is the holiest site in the world for the Jewish people. There has been a continuous Jewish presence in Chevron for thousands of years. King David ruled from there for over seven years. Many great sages and scholars lived there through the ages. The only break in the Jewish presence there was after the brutal massacre in 1929, when Arab riots led to the murder of 67 Jews and the wounding of 70. All survivors were then exiled from the city by the British, supposedly for their own safety.

After the Six Day War the Jews emotionally returned to this holy city, and many will have seen the photograph of Rabbi Goren waving the Israeli flag at the Cave of the Patriarchs (Ma’arat Ha’Machpela). They returned home.

[Hebron is still a tense, troubled and divided city. Arabs cannot sell houses or land to Jews under penalty of death from the Palestinian Authority; Jews cannot purchase, build or renovate homes there under Israeli law, nor can they renovate the desecrated Jewish cemeteries. The public buses have bullet proof windows, and the whole area, including the graves of Yishai, (father of King David) and Ruth is under constant surveillance from IDF soldiers.]

So… are the Jews who live there violent extremists breaking international law? Or does Chevron belong to the Jewish people, ever since G-d promised the Land to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. Is there any debate that Avraham bought the Cave of Machpela and the field it was in for its full value, to be passed on as an inheritance to his children?

Read the Parsha – and decide for yourself.

Let us pray for times of peace and harmony, in the spirit of Avraham Avinu – when all of mankind can live side-by-side with mutual respect for one another.

Rabbi Zalman Lent

Shabbat Shalom


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